Bill Gates reportedly returning to Microsoft? Not likely

By Tom Warren, on 8th Dec 11 9:24 pm with 81 Comments

Bill Gates arrives at court in November

Bill Gates is reportedly mulling a comeback to Microsoft.

Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates could be considering a move back to Microsoft, according to reports. Fortune reported on Thursday that one prominent chief executive told the site that an individual close to Gates indicated he could be considering a move back to Microsoft. As the original Microsoft Founder and Chairman, Gates transitioned from full-time work at Microsoft to focus on his philanthropy in June, 2008. Bill Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1994 with an initial stock gift of $94 million. Now nearly 17 years later, the software genius is working full time as a philanthropist. Gates refused to return full-time to Microsoft earlier this year, claiming that his full-time work for the rest of his life is with his foundation. “I’m part-time involved. But this is my job now,” said Gates during an interview in June.

Fortune’s report could be related to Gates considering a more active Chairman role rather than assuming CEO responsibilities. It was recently revealed that Gates had a hand in helping Microsoft kill off its courier tablet project. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had a difficult choice to make for the Courier, keep it or can it. Ballmer reportedly arranged for the Courier team to meet with Bill Gates to discuss their project. Gates wasn’t keen on the experience due to the fact it wasn’t intended to be a computer replacement and had no functional email client. His recommendations meant the project was canned just a few weeks later.

Gates was also involved in Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype. “I was a strong proponent at the board level for the deal being done,” Gates told the BBC’s Hardtalk programme earlier this year. ”I think it’s a great, great deal for Skype. I think it’s a great deal for Microsoft,” he added. His involvement in both the Courier and Skype indicate that he’s still a key decision maker at Microsoft and Fortune’s report may relate to his desire to involve himself in more decision making. Microsoft shareholder support for CEO Steve Ballmer dropped slightly this year. Ballmer was backed by 92% of shareholders in this year’s annual board election. Ballmer recorded a 95% backing last year. Fellow directors, including Chairman Bill Gates, were all re-elected this year with more than 99% support from shareholders. Ballmer’s shareholder score dropped slightly this year despite Microsoft reporting recording profits over the course of the year.

Ballmer has faced a tough time over the past year, following calls for him to step down. Glassdoor.com, which allows employees to anonymously rates their employer, reports that 55 percent of employees disapprove of Ballmer and 45 percent approve, based on 2,607 ratings. An influential hedge fund manager called for Ballmer to quit in May. Microsoft’s board of directors supported Ballmer following the calls for him to quit. Microsoft’s nine-person board, including Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates, supported Ballmer at the end of May. Microsoft’s stock has suffered since Ballmer has been in charge but most analysts and investors feel it would be a hard task to find someone adequate to replace him.

  • Anonymous

    Unlikely… but he should push for Sinofsky to be top dog

    • http://my.opera.com/wikipedian Thu Win

      Is Windows 8 his design? If yes, hell not cause the interface sucks! I hate being pushed back and forth between the two interface. I may change my voice once I actually get to test the RTM.

    • Guest

      Yes, obviously.

    • Anonymous

      I like the interface a lot and I know a lot of other people feel the same way.  It is a massive change though, so I can understand some people won’t like it.  I’m really looking forward to the beta when we get more metro apps and a better feel of what the final product will be like.

    • http://twitter.com/nn_hung Nguyen Ngoc Hung

      I really like Steven. But he better stays with the Windows team ;)

  • http://twitter.com/hammeredpizza Louis Sandiford

    Sinofsky for CEO!

    Gates assuming a more active role would be great, but we’ve got to look forward. Gates may be the best business-builder in the technological world, but Microsoft needs long term.

    Ballmer should move to a current Gates-esque role. I don’t want him out, just not as the forefront of the company.

    • Guest

      If W8 succeeds, Sinofksy is a shoe in. But if it fails, he’ll probably be first one sacrificed. I thought he did a great job with W7, but I really have to question the decision to let Apple (and Google) have THREE YEARS clear sailing in tablets before MS’s v1 product. Does any product now have a realistic chance of making up the lost ground, even one coming from MS? I don’t think so. Barring Google getting pole axed by the DOJ or EU, or Android lawsuits (and Google’s purchase of MMI) causing OEMs to abandon that OS in droves (very unlikely), mobile and tablets will now be dominated by Android. Maybe MS can eventually take second place to Apple in both based on volume. But even then it won’t be very profitable given MS’s very different licensing model compared to Apple.

      But any technologist heading MS would be preferable to Ballmer.

    • Anonymous

       Agreed Apple has another $15 billion in iPad net income sewed up for the the next 5 years. The rest of the industry might be divvying up $3 billion in tablet income.

    • Anonymous

      Sinofsky is already slated to take over for Balmer. Look for it to happen in about 3 years. They are going to try to position him as MS’s Steve Jobs. Their “visionary”. Regardless of how Windows 8 fares Sinofsky will move in. If it does well, he’s a genius. If it fails Balmer takes the blame.

    • Guest

      If W8 fails, what he’s slated for won’t matter. Ballmer will be gone and Sinofsky, if he even survives, will no longer have the credibility necessary to get shareholder approval for CEO.

    • Anonymous

      Its already done. They’re two years into a five year plan to put him in the top spot.
      Sent from my Windows Phone
      ________________________________

    • Guest

      @robbcab:disqus 

      No, it isn’t. Again, they can have whatever internal plan they want. That doesn’t mean shareholders will approve it. And their approval is required annually for all executive officers and board members.

      If W8 fails, Sinofsky doesn’t get CEO.

    • Anonymous

      How are those Chromebooks working for ya?

    • Guest

      Don’t have one. But at my local PC retailer every tablet on display and being sold runs Android. And my stepson, whose phone is already Android, just finished telling me today how impressed he was with an Android tablet and how he was going to buy his father one for Xmas so his dad doesn’t have to carry his PC on business trips anymore. That’s all good for MS, right?

    • Anonymous

      @7a612ea245e98edfec15e7e0062e2252:disqus , to tell the truth, it is good for Microsoft :P you see, since Android infringes on many of Microsoft’s patents, Microsoft has entered licensing deals with half of the Android manufacturers. So when he buys you one for Christmas, Microsoft will be getting somewhere between 5-20 dollars.

    • Guest

      @matthewthepc:disqus 

      Yeah, MS’s future growth strategy: live off Android royalities. I don’t think so.

    • Anonymous

      guest, of course that’s not their only strategy…although they are making a reported billion dollars/year off it ;)

  • Netwizard

    Bill needs to either take the reins full time or get rid of Ballmer!  Ballmer has only two dimensional thinking,  Appears very “rigid” when launching a product.  Microsoft only got in to the “cloud” era simply because they were pushed.

    • Faelun

      microsoft had cloud stuff for ages, way before apple did

    • http://twitter.com/TroyGates TroyGates

      Microsoft has been working in the “cloud” long before the “cloud” buzzword was created. 

    • Guest

      They were. But Netwizard is right that MS was initially very resistant to infrastructure, software, or platform as a service. As a result they are now playing catchup in all three.

    • Anonymous

      Windows XP was meant to be the start of software of a service but it was apparent that not many people were liking the idea. What Microsoft is doing right now is much better because it offers both options.

    • http://twitter.com/JackWilkins0n Jack Wilkinson

      Im sure they just used to call them ‘services’ before it was slandered a name

    • Oilerhead

      MS has been in the cloud for a long time.  So long in-fact that Apple’s iCloud runs on MS Azure which is the MS Cloud platform.

    • Guest

      It also runs on AWS.

      Not really too good that Amazon, an internet retailer operating right under MS’s nose in Washington state, saw the opportunity earlier and invested in it more seriously (which is why it’s currently the cloud infrastructure leader) than MS, the then most dominant technology company of its time.

      Luckily MS may have recovered in time there with Azure. We’ll have to see.

  • Anonymous

    Bill, come back! It will energize the company and the MS fans BIG TIME.

    I will tell you this – Google and Apple are PRAYING that he doesn’t come back. Enough said.

    • Impartial

      Although I agree with you that this would be cool, his work at the foundation is way more important. I think a good scenario would be for him to just appear in the big product shows and presentations, a bit like what Jobs used to do, introduce the talk and then pass on the ball, Just imagine:

      Gates: At Microsoft we dreamed of putting a PC in every home, now we want a PC in every pocket, y’all fanboys and fandroids bitches, I give you Windows8 dark-matter-powered modular OS, and here is Steven Sinfosky to show my Phoenix off!

      Sinofsky: Windows8, one OS to rule them all. 

      People: Take my money! take it take it take it!!!!

      Ballmer: gimme gimme gimme gimme!!!!! Yeah!!!! Subsequently he goes fucking mental and explodes like in this clip:

    • Alombelino

      Making toxin vaccines is more important? Hmmmmm.

    • http://twitter.com/oolong2 oolong2

      The guy who killed the Courier because it didn’t have Office and an email client yet?  No thanks.

      People may get emotional satisfaction from symbolic gestures, but I’d rather have someone with real vision.  Bill Gates is smart guy but he’s never really been a visionary.

      The Courier could have been released around the same time the iPad was.  Steve Jobs took the risk while Gates and Balmer didn’t.  They canned something far more innovative than an oversized iPod… 

      Fast forward 3 years later and you have Microsoft frantically trying to replicate iOS success with Windows 8 and their own App store.

    • Guest

      +1

    • Ridikelus

      You r-tards don’t understand why people like iPads because you don’t have one. Ha, ha. I’m writing this comment on my super cool, super thin iPad, and you’re going to read it on your big, dumb, hot PC. Make sure you have the right drivers installed!

    • Me

      dude congratulations!!! you win the dumbest comment of the day award!
      people dont buy ipad because of how visionary steve jobs was, they buy it because, like yourself, they’re dumb! it’s a big iphone with nothing “visionary” about it! if you think bill gates killed courier for no reason (i was actually among the courier’s fans), look at RIM’s playbook. Do you live under a rock not to hear how furious people are that the device doesnt have a native email client! You are just “fckuing” dumb!

    • http://twitter.com/oolong2 oolong2

      Sorry, but that award clearly goes to you. 

      Theere was absolutely nothing worthwhile in your little Troll rant.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/6G3ZZJCHOLYP3S5CRCIHQ7WDSE MVIM

    People often forget how late Microsoft was to the Internet. Yet, they still managed to lead in browser market share for nearly 10 years. Microsoft is not too late to the “cloud” era. They will be just fine in due time.

    • Guest

      How’s that browser battle been going this decade?

    • Anonymous

      actually, if you look up the numbers on IE9 adoption for Windows 7, pretty good. Thanks for asking ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shameer-Mulji/1685212657 Shameer Mulji

      I agree.  With the way IE 10 is shaping up I won’t be surprised if those numbers improve. I just hope MS ports IE 10 to Win7

    • Guest

      Let’s try that again, this time without the MS RDF.

      IE has gone from 95% to less than 50% worldwide on PCs and has virtually no presence at all on smartphones, thanks to WP’s small share. Unless something changes dramatically, in less than 3 years Chrome will be the most installed browser.

    • Anonymous

      can you explain to me why what I’m saying doesn’t make sense, because it makes sense to me. Sure, IE has dropped extremely, but looking at recent history we can draw a different conclusion then it dissolving into obscurity. The thing about comparing IE on *all operating systems* is that the latest version, IE9, only runs on computers Vista and better, while much of the world still uses XP. Now of course, you can say that Microsoft did that just to make IE9s adoption look better, but in reality Windows 7 is being received extremely well, and with that IE9 is being received pretty well on Windows 7. So you have the browsers market share on its target platform *and* the market share of the target platform rising at a good pace, you end up with a browser that has good potential for the future. http://windowsteamblog.com/ie/b/ie/archive/2011/11/30/ie9-leading-modern-browser-on-windows-7-worldwide.aspx according to NetApplications (as reported by Microsoft and Winrumors), worldwide IE9 usage on Windows 7 is greater than Chrome and Firefox, making it the number 2 browser in the world on Windows 7, behind IE8.

      my biggest question is what problem do you have with the below reasoning?

      Windows 7 currently has some 35% of the market share for operating systems in the US (http://www.netmarketshare.com/operating-system-market-share.aspx?qprid=10&qpcustomd=0), while IE9 on Windows 7 is somewhere just under 25% market share. Currently, IE9 on all operating systems worldwide is at 10%

      Now we look at the fact that Windows 7′s market share has been growing at about 1% a month worldwide (http://www.netmarketshare.com/report.aspx?qprid=11&qpaf=&qpcustom=Windows+7&qpcustomb=0).

      So if IE9 can sustain it’s lead on Chrome and Firefox in the Windows 7 space, Windows 7 market share will continue to grow, and eventually become the number one operating system. Add to that Windows 8 (and the deep integration IE10 will have with it), and you have a browser who’s market share is growing sustainably.

    • Guest

      @matthewthepc:disqus 

      Here’s why it doesn’t make sense. In 2011, for the first time, smartphones + tablets outsold PCs. Next year it won’t even be close because tablets + smartphones are growing much faster. Compared to that opportunity (or threat), staying ahead, barely, on your own PC OS, and even then just one version, has very little meaning.

      Effectively MS has given up on staying the world’s leading browser, because you can get there and be platform-specific. So Google will become the leading browser. And since most of people’s time on PCs, Macs, tablets, and smartphones is spent in the browser, that’s a very valuable and strategic position to hold.  

    • Anonymous

      First i’d like o say that I don’t want to get in a fight, and that most of your points are completely valid, so if you respond to this i probably wont reply ;)

      Now I get where your coming from; your not saying that IE9 is not growing fast on desktops, but you are downplaying the importance of Windows in the ‘post-pc’ age. But to really find out where IE9/10 is going on smartphones and tablets, we’d have to wait for Windows 8 and see where the Nokia Windows Phones go. Why? The tablet market isn’t, IMO, a done deal. If Microsoft can capture a large amount of market share in the tablet market, then I believe that IE10 works so great with Windows 8 that people will be using that (especially on ARM devices) until Firefox and/or Chrome creates a comparable Metro version for Windows on ARM. But by that time we have to see whether people really want to switch; if IE10 is enough of an improvement, and if it’s the best browser for Windows 8 when it comes out, then it could succeed in shattering the stereotype of Internet Explorer being an extremely slow and non-standards-compliant browser, thus having people ask themselves, ‘do I really need to switch back to Firefox or Chrome? Is there an extremely good feature that Chrome/FF has but not the IE10 I’ve become accustomed to?’ But then again, Mozilla or Google could simply come up with a great Metro browser from the WDP/Beta or Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 could end up being duds and the tablet business would kill the PC business, etc. etc. etc.

      But it is my belief that the tablet and smartphone markets aren’t set in stone. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see ;)

  • Tfouto

    People,

    What Bill is doing on his foundation is WAY more important to mankind then it’s possible comeback to MS. Technology is nice and everything, but its just an secondary and useful aspect of life. Life its much more then that. And the job that Bill Gates is doing there its much much more important…

    • Guest

      Exactly. So GTFO of MS and do that full-time. Don’t stick around just enough to keep your dorm buddy in power as he runs the company into the ground.

    • Guest

      i don’t think you understand what record profits means.

    • Guest

      I don’t think you understand that as long as you’re still growing, even if barely like MS, and margins haven’t declined too much, as they haven’t yet with MS, you can still have “record profits”. But when one of your main competitors, Apple, who was nearly bankrupt when Steve became CEO, also has record profits but they’re now larger and growing seven times faster than MS’s, should you be proud of your performance?

  • Gui’S

    Personally I vote for Steven Sinofsky

    • Guest

      The need a strong technical person who is also a brilliant business strategist. Is that Stevesi?

    • Guest

      As we have seen with decision to wait three years before responding to iPad or Android tablets, no.

  • Anonymous

    No idea why people dislike Ballmer so much . . .
    I guess I’m the only one who thinks Ballmer is infact doing a better job than Bill…
    Inspite of recession, Microsoft was able to deliver great results…
    Windows 8, Windows Phone, XBOX, Kinect integration is the key aim for 2012,
    which is slowly but surely shaping up awesomely . . . I’d hate for someone else to step in,
    and disturb that …

    I’d simply hate if someone kills off Windows Phone … it’s awesome & has tons of potential ….could sell much better, if only marketed better & more strategically !

    • http://twitter.com/ParkerReno Parker Ciambrone

      That last sentence is the main reason for most people’s hate, Microsoft’s marketing, well, sucks for the Windows Phone.  It is an amazing phone but people need someone to blame for the poor marketing.

    • Guest

      I don’t dislike him, though many do. I just can’t fathom how people like you can look at the record and seriously argue that he’s done a good job. Even a couple of years ago, pre-iPhone/Android and pre-iPad/Android tablets, that would have been a stretch. But now? They blew a ten year lead in both markets.  It wasn’t even competitive. Apple just rolled right over them and within a year it was over. And MS response in both cases, shockingly, has taken three years. In both cases it was Ballmer’s initial arrogance and pathetic competitive threat assessment that contributed to the loss and subsequent delayed response. I just don’t know how anyone can try and spin that differently.

      If you like MS and its products, you have to at least be questioning whether Steve is the person they need in order to win against Apple and Google.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shameer-Mulji/1685212657 Shameer Mulji

      I agree in the mobile device Apple rolled right in and did some serious ass whooping.  But I don’t agree it’s over.  It’s far from over.  As a matter of fact, it’s just getting started.  

      Not that I’m a fan of Android but sales of that platform are on a tear right now.  Windows 8 is shaping to be quite nice.  Windows Phone 7.5 is getting very high acclaim and the more people use they really do enjoy it.  Kinect is getting an improvement next year and coming to the PC.  MS is doing everything right at the moment & is gaining momentum.

    • Guest

      Yes, there’s been some improvement lately. But I’m still concerned that they’re now too far behind in both. The nature of technology is that once one ecosystem becomes dominant it is very hard to dislodge. Also, if Ballmer remains in charge, my concern is how long till the next blow up and three year delayed response?

      It’s a bit like playing Russian Roulette. You can spin the chamber and pull the trigger a couple of times and maybe survive. It’s stupid and extremely dangerous, but maybe you get lucky. However if you keep playing, it’s only a matter of time before you get one between the eyes and it’s game over.

    • Thomas Bundgaard

      I do agree, that MS was way to slow to see the threat. Ballmers early arrogance was based on poor judgement.

      Then again, everyone makes mistakes. The problem is, that MS does not have the RDF that Apple has.

  • Guest

    Why would anyone want him back? He checked out a decade ago and has let Ballmer systematically screw up virtually every single thing that they were counting on for future growth. The best thing for MS would be for Ballmer and Gates to go. That way, a new CEO could actually chart a new course without interference.

    • Thomas Bundgaard

      Much can be said about Ballmer – but he’s not solely responsible for the course MS is taking. There’s a board of directors who has to agree on that kinda stuff.

      But yeah, like in football (the real european kind :)) it’s the coach that gets axed, not the board or the players, if something goes wrong.

    • Guest

      Very true. In fact you can argue the blame rests mostly with them since it’s their job to evaluate the company’s direction and the performance of the CEO. Ballmer’s is just to do the best job he’s capable of, whether that’s ultimately sufficient or not.

      That’s one of the reasons I think Gates needs to go too. He’s done absolutely nothing as Chairman to prevent any of this. On the contrary, he has and continues to provide his full support for Steve. And from a practical perspective, who on the board is going to go head to head against Bill on who the right CEO is for MS? The answer is no one.

  • Anonymous

    I call BS on the Glassdoor thing, how do they verify that the person voting in the approval poll is a MSFT employee?

    • Guest

      They can’t. But unless clowns like you are also pretending to be MS employees and writing in with negative reviews (possible, sadly. maybe even likely), MS’s results should be comparable to others produced using the same mechanism.

  • Achilles

    Since Ballmer took over, the share price has consistently dropped(also because wall streeters dont know any better when it comes to tech). We need a viosionary. We need to energize people. In nutshell, we need a programmer to run the software giant(Tom’s words)…Who can better Bill G the software genius(again Tom’s dictionary) for that job?  

    • Guest

      >$200 billion in market cap destroyed
      >$100 billion in cash incinerated via buybacks
      >$100 billion spent on R&D compared to less than $10 by Apple

      Result: Apple more revenue, profit, growth, cash, market cap, disruptive innovations, …

    • Guest

      Well, leaving the revenue apart the spectrum of products and the way things fit it, no other company comes close to Microsoft.

    • Guest

      What consolation will that be if their growth and valuation continue to decline and someone eventually ends up taking them out?

    • Anonymous

       The trend is in 10 years Apple will rule the world and Microsoft will be declaring Chapter 7.

    • GaryGibson

      You still here, turd?

    • Guest

      The trend from 90-2000 showed Apple heading for bankruptcy. How’s that turned out?

    • Thomas Bundgaard

      In 10 years people will be sick of the iPhones and Apple will have to rely on their Macs to make money.

    • http://twitter.com/JackWilkins0n Jack Wilkinson

      10 years time apple is boned.
      Their smartphone lead is gone thanks to ice cream sandwich and stunning hardware from Samsung and their “tablet” isn’t even a proper tablet just a big ol’ ipod touch.
      Windows 8 is going to break down the stereotypical catagories of computing and blend them together. Microsoft will tune it to perfection.

      I hate it when my friends tell me they only need an ipad because they dont want their whole computer, which is just plain bullshit. Anyone would like a full computer experience and windows 8 will provide this and also a fast slick UI to get you in and out, just as fast as an ipad.

      And their macs…. well…… lion….. yep….

  • Anonymous

    Apple disrupts markets about every 3 years. 2001 – MP3 players. 2007 – smartphones, 2010 – tablets, 2012 – TVs. When is the last time Microsoft disrupted any market, like 20 years ago?

    • Henrik

      XBOX :) 

    • http://twitter.com/sebastian_swann sebastian

      It’s not 200X and not 199X so nor Microsoft or Apple can’t distrupt markets any more. Smartphones and tablets woke up every company in the industry. Now everyone are in a race.

    • Anonymous

      i find it kind of interesting that you say about every three years when the only actual 3 year time period is from smartphones to tablets; the MP3 player to smartphone is some 6 years, and the TV hasn’t even been released yet ;)

    • Guest

      You’re looking to ArrowSmith for facts? LOL.

    • Anonymous

      ;) i have a horrible memory and wanted to do a quick reply…..no time to look stuff up ^_^

  • Kinect_dev

    I don’t get it. I’m more excited about Microsoft prodocuts now than ever before. I am a bit dissapointed with therecent lack of energy for Silverlight (the best MS technology ever developed) but other than that MS is doing everything right, IMHO.

  • Konanyao

    Well,i don’t think it is a good idea.
    Bill Gates is a visionary but i am not sure that it is a better manager than Ballmer.
    Ballmer for someone who lacks both of vision and of charisma, is doing quite a great job as the CEO of Microsoft. I think that Microsoft doesn’t necessary need to get rid of Ballmer but to find a great VRP with a lot of charisma and a visionary to define the vision. This trio or duo could do great.
    For some reason, i am not sure that Steven Synofski would do that great as the CEO of Microsoft.
    I begin to question some of its team choices with Windows 8, though i will wait until the Beta to have a more objective opinion about this O.S. I expected Windows 8 to be revolutionary but not as an O.S optimized for tablet and touch first.

  • Marinovesp23

    Bill Gates Return, YESS

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1581638598 Tylor Ray Gallagher

    screw balmer he is a child who gets a fat pay check, he has no idea what he is doing, gates needs a new head team that can bring all ms products together with him head of board to make sure things stay in line. then hire a new ceo that has a clear vision (but with some future proofing) to take developed products on tge right path, and also move ms into new feilds of products. see some inovation in things they can do, if they just had some one….like me, who knew what to do. hell id do it for 7.50 a houre just to prove my point but ballmer needs to go…..cut the fat its not doing any thing but sucking the life out

  • Ridikelus

    What, copying Macintosh wasn’t enough? Now, he needs to try and copy Steve Jobs’ “comeback”, too?

  • http://twitter.com/JackWilkins0n Jack Wilkinson

    two words: steven sinofksy

  • Guest

    Please come back!